The subject of personal accountability has come up in several of Joyce’s articles, and I believe that acceptance of that accountability is one of the most intrinsic steps to take in recovery and healing from our relationships with psychopaths, or otherwise toxic people.
First of all, what is accountability, anyway? According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, the short definition of “accountability” is “….the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions <public officials lacking accountability> “ I believe the second reference as, “…an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility….” is where I found acceptance for myself, my actions, and my decisions.
Why bring this up, at all? Haven’t we all experienced enough pain, enough guilt, and enough humiliation without having to accept blame for being victimized? Well, that isn’t what “personal accountability” really is. It isn’t assigning blame, nor is it intended to create a sense of shame or guilt. Will there be feelings of shame and guilt? Most likely – but, those feelings will be sorted out in due time to reflect understanding and acceptance and we will not die from those “feelings.” We will process them, reconcile those feelings with the facts, and move on down our personal Healing Paths.
To illustrate this, I’ll use a somewhat tedious example of someone that I know that I’ll call, “Brenda.” Brenda spent her life as an educator at a high-status boarding school teaching children of very, very wealthy people. Brenda has a brother who, from her own descriptions, seemed high in anti-social traits with a general lack of compassion, empathy, etc. Brenda’s sister-in-law is equally shallow, and their two children were raised in a self-absorbed and shallow dysfunction. That’s all that I know about this family from Brenda, though I did have occasion to meet the sister-in-law, and she appeared as shallow and narcissistic as they come.
At some point, Brenda’s niece had been experiencing extreme depression, self-loathing, etc., and committed suicide, to the shock of the entire family. I have no idea whether or not any help was sought for this young woman, but she ended her own life and threw the surviving family members into a state of guilt that was never resolved, from my understanding.
After the suicide of her niece, Brenda literally believed that she had failed to “see” where her niece was headed and, in an attempt to “save” her nephew from the path that he had chosen, she decided to retire from her teaching position at the very posh establishment and purchase an expensive bed and breakfast facility that she intended for her nephew and her to run, as partners, as a successful business. The inn, itself, was already a well-established facility with perennial clientele and is situated in one of the most exclusive communities in the region – summer homes were selling for six million four years ago. So, it would seem that it was a turn-key operation and only needed to be run as it had been in order to continue to generate profit and success for the owners. Well, that wasn’t to be.
The nephew apparently wasn’t as enthusiastic about partnering with his Aunt Brenda, and had no intention of working, under any auspices. In fact, he used the company’s lines of credit to purchase himself trips to Aspen, and other resorts, and spent money that had yet to be generated, much less paid to the lines of credit. In short, the nephew used the business as his own personal cash cow, and it was at about this time that I became acquainted with Brenda .
Brenda spent thousands of her own dollars on an attorney that ratified the business arrangement between her and her nephew – negotiations went on for months until the final agreement only required him to pay back everything that he used on the lines of credit. Of course, his parents were furious that Brenda was making any requirement, whatsoever, but they all maintained an extremely strained relationship with Brenda trying to smooth things over at every available opportunity. A side note on this is that the nephew never paid back a dime to the business and he was never held liable for this, to my knowledge.
Once the nephew was out of the business picture, Brenda began a strenuous campaign to find suitable business partners that would, in due time, purchase the business from her so that she could go on about her life. She settled upon some guy and his girlfriend – the guy claimed the title of “chef,” but had never attended even a culinary class, and watched videos on YouTube and the Food Network to teach himself how to cook like a chef. His girlfriend might have had a degree in business, but I cannot vouch for that, either way. Brenda was in heaven – someone was going to run that business, buy it, and she would be free.
In the interim, another business contract was drawn up (at her expense, of course) that would maintain her as a silent partner with the man and his girlfriend running the establishment as if it were their own until they secured their own business loan to purchase the entire establishment – Brenda was not “allowed” to remain on the premises or to make unannounced visits, as per the contracted agreement. And, she agreed to this clause just to rid herself of the burden and one that I cautioned her against when the subject came up.
So, this arrangement sent Brenda on a nearly 2-year-long vagabond experience where she stayed with one friend, then another, then another, and back and forth until the soon-to-be-new-owners bailed on the business contract and fled the establishment after having been categorically denied every application for a business loan and having driven it further into irrevocable debt. So, Brenda returned to the establishment to find it in shambles, in all ways, and tried to revive it for another year before she was ejected from the property by the mortgage lender.
What’s the point of this entire story? I’m getting to the “accountability” part, here. At no time did Brenda ever say (to me), “I should never have bought this inn. It was a mistake to try to help my nephew and expect him to appreciate my effort.” Not once did Brenda “see” that she had enabled all of these people……her nephew, the new business partners, etc. They were all ungrateful, unappreciative, conniving, selfish, and so forth.
I have no idea how Brenda is faring after this horrific mess finally collapsed. I do know that she received notice that she had 7 days to vacate the establishment and that the bank foreclosed on the property, almost immediately. I have long-ago lost touch with Brenda and I have a strong perception that she would prefer not to communicate with me because I would remind her of her dreadful experiences. Not my problem, and I wish her no ill-will, whatsoever. But, what is dreadfully clear in this recollection is that Brenda could not and WOULD not admit to making a mistake. The last time that I did speak with her, she was bitter, angry, and distraught over this business-gone-to-shiat, and I wish that it were not true, but she really made some serious errors in judgment. Was her nephew a nincompoop? He certainly was. Did she give over her trust to people that she didn’t know and had no intention of meeting their legal obligation? Yes, she did. Is it fair? Of course, it isn’t. Is it kind? No, it is not. Is there some delight to be gained at Brenda’s failures? Absolutely, not! But, Brenda isn’t likely to ever recover from her experiences because she blatantly refused to see where her own personal choices led to multiple disasters.
Personal accountability doesn’t mean that we deserved whatever we experienced. Personal accountability is acknowledging that I made the conscious choice to ignore obvious red flags with regard to toxic and sociopathic people that I allowed into my life. Personal accountability is my individual acknowledgment that I made the choice to do one thing, or another, that resulted in my being victimized by someone when it could have very easily never happened had I simply admitted that I had made some bad choices.
When I finally accepted my own personal accountability for having chosen two (2) very disordered spouses, the “acceptance” allowed me to let go of so much hatred, anger, and regret. So, those things happened, and I made some bad choices. Luckily, I didn’t die from any of them, though I very easily could have! But, I am alive, today, and today is where I start from when I wake up, each morning. I’m not concerned about the next great calamity, nor am I that concerned about my past – my personal accountability and acceptance has allowed me to live in the present, rather than spin that vortex of anxiety over the past and future.
We’re okay. I’m okay. Making mistakes is okay. Being human isn’t a sin. But, refusing to learn from my mistakes might be the sin that I really wish to avoid.